Four Games

Bernie Miklasz wrote something in his column this morning that got me thinking:

A St. Louis team that’s 8-8 could easily be looking at a 12-4 record if not for the frequent ninth-inning pyrotechnics.

A lot of people say that it is early, that you cannot draw overarching conclusions about the entire season based on 16 games. That’s true, and a lot of what we’ve seen in these 16 games proves that. We can’t expect the offense to be as terrible as it was in the first week or as amazing as its been in the last week.

However, the first 16 games matter just as much as the last 16 games. Four games in April have the same effect on the standings as the last four games in the season. It is still the difference between a 88 win team and a 92 win team. Often, it is the difference between playing in October and sitting home in October.

Enough people, including me, have slammed Ryan Franklin. He was never a great closer, or a good pitcher. He survived on a steady diet of luck but I don’t think anyone expected him to regress this quickly. And he’s not this bad. Guys who “pitch to contact” and give up a lot of fly balls are easily swayed by the winds of fortune. In 2009, they helped him glide to a 1.92 ERA. In 2011, they’ve battered him for a 11.57 ERA.

There are other issues, such as the fact he’s either throwing his cutter more often, which is exactly what we saw in the Great Jason Isringhausen Debacle of 2008. His location isn’t good, but it’s never been. It’s possible that age is catching up to him, which can be devastating for a guy who throws just hard enough to get outs with his fastball.

But unless he’s hurt, it’s very likely that if TLR keeps running him out there, he’ll end up with an ERA right in line with his 4.5 xFIP. He might even have another string of scoreless innings and successful saves that convinces everyone that he’s “bacK” or “regained his bulldog mentality” or something equally ridiculous.

Hell, if not for certain weather conditions–pressure systems, humidity, and yes, gusts of wind–we might not even be having this discussion. Those fly balls would have hung up and found their way into gloves, and Ryan Franklin wouldn’t have to look over his shoulder at Mitchell Boggs. The sportswriters would be praising him for his toughness and playfully joking about tightrope antics.

But that’s not what happened, and now we’ve lost four games we probably should have won. We don’t know what those four games mean yet, but if we’re one game back of the Reds in September, those errant fly balls are going to hurt.

Something good has to come out of this run of bad luck, bad weather, and bad pitches. Ryan Franklin needs to be taken out of the closer role. Not because he blew four saves in a row. Save percentage is bullshit. It doesn’t mean anything. He could have easily saved all four of those games. Because he shouldn’t have been the closer in the first place, and now everyone can see it. Franklin’s problems are no longer the realm of the sabermetric and the predictive. We’re no longer talking about unsustainable BAbips or suspiciously high xFIPs. Those stats have given way to an atrocious WHIP and a disastrous ERA.

Franklin doesn’t “pitch to contact”. He pitches to the warning track. He shouldn’t be facing the best hitters in one run games. He should be pitching long relief, handling RH batters, eating innings.

This isn’t on Franklin. This is on TLR now. Just like in 2008, when Izzy was faltering, and even the most basic stats reflected it, you can’t blame the pitcher. Everything is there for the manager to see that something has to be changed.

The damage is only four games now. Hopefully TLR has learned something from those four games.

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